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Doping exemptions nightmare looms

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games. What an adventure. (Eduardo Gabão / Wikimedia Commons)
Roar Guru
25th May, 2016
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While Russians dominate soon-to-be-released doping positives from re-tested Beijing Olympic samples, Australian Rio Olympians may have unwittingly exposed themselves to similar future shame files.

Lack of transparency in the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) system has created a global groundswell of unrest and finger pointing. Exemptions can be granted for the use of banned substances when doctors prescribe them.

Australia’s own TUE approving body ASDMAC (Australian Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee) has been accused of blocking legitimate access to TUE statistics. University of Queensland researcher Bradley Partridge described ASDMAC’s 2013 refusal to supply him with a breakdown of TUE’s across 37 banned substances as “likely to raise suspicions”.

In the USA, prominent major league baseball players are calling for TUE recipients to be named, along with their symptoms and prescription details. Last year, 9 per cent of players were prescribed Ritalin for ADHD.

Ritalin can increase explosiveness, strength and stamina. Leading baseball anti TUE campaigner Adrian Gonzales claimed “players know how to answer the questions” when they present with ADHD symptoms.

Australian footballers learned the hard way from the infamous Australian Crime Commission Report into doping that they are personally accountable, yet many athletes believe TUE’s will always be beyond scrutiny.

Depending on the direction of the mounting fears of saturation TUE abuse, it is not unthinkable that a future investigation could retrospectively rescind suspicious approvals.

Just as past drug testing technology could not identify certain drugs used in Beijing, many now believe the sympathetic charter of the original TUE system could not anticipate a potential for abuse and must be improved.

According to Partridge, Australian TUE requests increased dramatically in the wake of the Crime Commission’s success.

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He said ASDMAC advised him this number was “huge but unknown”. Australian sports with highest elite TUE usage are swimming, AFL, athletics and cycling. Three of these, of course, are Olympic sports.

Commonly prescribed PEDs associated with TUEs are Ritalin (for ADHD), various stimulants, hydrocortisone, growth hormone, testosterone and exycodone.

Recent American Congressional willingness to aggressively prosecute international sporting criminality (eg FIFA), has yet to encompass TUEs. But if evidence of abuse is found at an organisational level, Australian governing federations and athletes may come under scrutiny.

If so, the immense public interest and investment in sport might well override the presumed patient confidentiality firewall for athletes.

According to Partridge, ASDMAC’s historical reluctance to yield information has created an impression it “has something to hide”. ASDMAC is a federally funded body.

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